It’s not just about the calories

So summer is upon us! Happy dances all round!

But that sometimes sends some of us into a diet frenzy along the likes of “ditch everything delicious and only eat celery because it takes more calories to digest than it contains”. But reading labels all day every day is not fun, and while it’s important to make healthier food choices, eating and health are about more than just counting the calories.

Science is showing us again that the amount of calories we extract from food isn’t such a neat numbers game after all, and what’s written on the label isn’t necessarily always 100 percent what we’re getting. Why? Because food is complex and we very rarely eat something in isolation and just as we found it.

Things such as chopping, juicing, blending, sautéing, high temperatures, fibre content and chemical composition all affect how much energy is released from each morsel of food. A cooked potato, for example, gives us more energy than a raw one because the cooking does some of the calorie-burning digestive work for us. Foods with sturdier cell walls, like corn or seeds, can pass through without being broken down and so not release any calories at all. Almonds, not willing to share as much of their calories as other similarly composed foods, apparently only give us 129 calories per serving instead of the higher amount shown on labels. And to add to that, our individual digestive systems also play a role in how much energy we get from food. So yes, that means that what works for your favourite celeb won’t necessarily work for you.


When it comes to processed foods, our bodies don’t need to work as hard to get the energy from them; so essentially it’s a whole lot of calories, easily absorbed, and often lacking in nutrients. Whole and less processed foods make us work harder to get the energy from them, and also provide us with valuable nutrients – that’s a win win situation right there!

So this is as good a time as any to accept that fact that we use food differently, that we have different preferences, and that if we really listen to our incredibly clever bodies and use food labels simply to identify those foods that are inherently healthier rather than to count every single calorie, we’ll be able to make informed and tasty food choices when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full.

Take a break from reading labels in an effort to obsessively control your calorie intake. Rather head to the pool, relax your gorgeous body on a lounger, and read a book instead. And when a craving strikes, tuck into KAUAI’s delicious, fresh and antioxidant-rich Strawberry Stinger, Yoga Berry or Go-Goji Berry Smoothie.


Information sourced from Scientific American Sept 2013 Special Food Issue

Written for the Virgin Active blog

Images sourced from Pinterest

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